The subject of vigilantism had taken a very interesting perspective over the past few months. Following the media capture of brutalities that were visited on civilians by ‘state security’ in the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-elections of 31st January, 2019, many individuals who never saw the need to speak up on the issues on the rising spate of vigilante activities somewhere in the year 2016, have begun speaking. In addition, the apparent embarrassing statements by state security officials who appeared before the Emile Short’s Commission of Enquiry constituted to look into the issue surrounding the operations that turned bloody at the by-elections of Ayawaso had given people a clear picture of what the outcome of unguarded activities of vigilantes can bring to a state.
It would be completely disingenuous to limit the activities of vigilantes to the period before the 2016 elections and moments after the Mr. Akufo-Addo regime was inaugurated. Long before then, there have been reports of clashes between groups and between groups and state security officials. In all of these reported cases, one would easily come to understand that none of the operations of these groups were backed by state security machinery. It is sufficient to cite the failure by the state’s security to act on such criminal activities, so to put. The obvious failures have resulted in some form of legitimacy for individuals to begin building private militia to protect their interests at the pools.
But, for a little while, the activities of known vigilante groups had gone down, significantly. Not until somewhere before the elections of 2016, there were minimal, if at all, activities that could be linked to political party vigilantes. When reports of the apprehension of some three South Africans brought into the country was reported in a certain remote area, training some group of individuals in various security drills including weapon handling, and their subsequent deportation by the then government headed by John Dramani Mahama, Ghana’s former president, those who spoke up, cautioned the nation of an impending danger that needed to be addressed immediately. At the time, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), mounted spirited defenses to justify the need to own, train, and equip private individuals to provide them security as they did not have confidence in the nation’s security to protect them.
In the end, even though all wisdom on the need to eradicate these looming danger were not heeded, the NPP won the 2016 elections, and have been handed over the security of the state they did not believe in while in opposition, to manage and secure the lives of people living under its reign. From the position of the party in the past, it found itself in a very tight corner to steer the affairs of a nation and to command its security, a security it had no confidence in.
Soon after the declaration of the 2016 results, the first casualty was recorded in Fiapre in the then Brong Ahafo Region where a toll both was burnt down and captured on video by thugs belonging to the NPP. Then came the assault of one ASP Nanka Bruce, a police officer, at the Seat of Government, the Flagstaff House (now Jubilee House) by some members of the Invisible Forces. When this video footage was released, there were reports that the Flagstaff House was rather in search of the individual(s) who leaked the video of the assault, leaving the perpetrators of the main act to go unpunished. There were many other cases including the shutting down of NHIS and School Feeding offices across the country.
What even became more terrifying was the manner in which a regional security coordinator of the Ashanti Region, was accosted and hounded out of office by a group known as Delta Forces, the Ashanti Regional branch of vigilante groups of the NPP. On top of that their colleagues who were apprehended and arraigned before court, were freed in a Rambo-style when members of the Delta Forces entered the court room to drag out and free their members standing trial. When the justice system later got the opportunity to set a deterring example, they ended up with a fine of Ghc1,800 (the equivalent of $346), which was reportedly mobilized and paid for by the New Patriotic Party, an act that can be described as patting one on the shoulder for a job well executed.
In his new style of appointment of his ministers in a fashion considered to showcase the ‘competence’ of his appointees, the president, in his appointment of a Minister of State at the Presidency in charge of National Security, Mr. Bryan Acheampong, revealed “his duties in the Office of the President will be purely political”. How an appointment of a minister of state, becomes a vehicle to engage in “purely political” activities, was only a matter of time, for the people to realize.
Even though the vigilante activities were openly addressed by the President a couple of times to have a negative image on the country, he never gathered the courage to deal with the issues to serve as a deterrent to would-be actors. Over a certain period, their activities began going down, creating the impression that they might have been placed out of the party structure even though the General Secretary of the party, Mr. John Boadu and Kennedy Agyapong, among others, openly dismissed suggestions for the disbandment of such groups in the NPP.
Not until the Ayawaso West Wuogon incidence, we have been living in an island where we seemed to have no idea what was being done with these groups in the NPP. The newest form of political vigilantism was outdoored to the people of Ghana. We saw a new form of vigilantism being sponsored and controlled by the state. This has gone beyond the usual vigilante group and activities we have known in the past.
Conspiracy theorists are suggesting that the state has absorbed its vigilante groups it hosted in opposition and who began the administration with massive mayhem, into the national security structure, to perform functions that are meant to sustain the regime in power.
From the foregoing, it can be assumed that the NPP as of today, may only have ‘vigilantes’ existing in name, but not with physical personnel, and disbanding them, would be by name, and would achieve nothing when the individuals who make up the groups are now national security operatives, operating as state officials, in the interest of the president and his party.
As would be expected, and as predicted, it was a stage to attract attention, when the president, in his recent State of Nation Address, heeded swiftly to rising calls from civil society to disband vigilante groups, by mooting that he would speak to his party to call a meeting with the opposition to discuss and disband these groups, failure of which would result in his passing a law to deal with the matter.
As good as that may sound, one must be critical to go beyond the statement made by the president. Using the word vigilante loosely, it creates room for the public to engage in discussing the two main political parties as heavily involved in vigilantism. However, since this government took over in January, 2017, there had been virtually no report of any group linked to the National Democratic Congress (NDC), involved in any vigilante activities. Indeed, the Ayawaso issue that has become the center of these whole discussions of vigilante activities, was not a clash between NDC and NPP groups. It was a clash between ‘national security’ operatives and civilians.
We must not confuse the two. Any attempt to discuss vigilantism with Awayaso as a case study, would be arriving at conclusions that are not grounded on the right hypothesis.
Should we take the president’s call on face value, it would mean that he is hosting a group of individual party hoodlums who are operating outside his government. The conspiracy has it that he is deeply involved and had found a safe haven for his party vigilantes in his government who now operate with full state security resources at their disposal.
Is it then possible to meet and discuss a topic on vigilantism with a president when he has legitimized activities of these men and provided them with uniforms to operate with legitimacy? The dangers this pose is that whenever these individuals are spotted in an election related activities in the interest of the party NPP and president, they are covered by whatever immunities and privileges that are accorded officials of the state.
The NPP is conveniently discussing issues of vigilantes, and would easily succumb to pressure to disband their groups, knowing too well that there are no groups except in names as their activities would remain executed in a form so legitimized by the state.
The happenings in Ayawaso appeared to have occurred rather too early, exposing a certain form of weakness in our security. It presents to us, a case of unprofessional men in professional attires, who have been exposed for what they are. Following images that have been released following the incidence, it has emerged that these men were infiltrated into the state’s security structure, thereby compromising the professionalism expected of any serious state security structure.
In order to ensure a clear, open, frank and transparent system in dealing with the activities of using hoodlums, it would be a good start for the president to show leadership by putting trust in the nation’s security officials, and allow them to guard him instead of using his private militia to provide him security, to the extent that his personal and privately trained guards in opposition, are more closer to him in providing security than those trained by the state to do so. This does not build confidence in citizens. It portends that if the number one commander cannot trust the army he commands, who should trust them?
It would also be appropriate for a full list of recruitment into the state’s security from 2017 to be examined closely. Anything short of that would appear like disarming an individual on the back of lies. Some assurances are needed beyond the invitation. The talks by the president, concealed the real issues we need to address. Any meeting, if at all, must clearly be geared towards ensuring the state security is weeded off individuals who were absorbed on the back of providing vigilante support for the NPP while in opposition. That would be the only way we can make a positive progress that would not raise suspicion in efforts at ending vigilante activities in our body politics.